The following are just a few of the many programs that have impacted the lives of thousands of vulnerable women, girls and their family members.
Skills to Boost Employment
Refugee Single mothers in Dzaleka camp have very limited opportunities to gain useful skills which would enable them to have access to the labour market and provide for themselves.
Malawi’s restrictive policies on freedom of movement and the right to employment limits refugees’ opportunities to earn a living. This is certainly the case in the Dzaleka refugee camp, where single mothers from Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC have incredibly limited opportunities to gain useful skills that would allow them to provide for themselves and their families.
Consequently refugees, especially single mothers are often seen begging in the streets of Dzaleka and most of them are even forced to resort to prostitution and survival sex in order to be able to provide for themselves and their dependents. Since July 2018, SOFERES established a vocational training center in Dzaleka camp to provide different vocational skills including tailoring, business, and life skills classes, so participants are able to access the labor market to begin engaging in trade. Through VGIF’s support, 60 single mothers have increased their cash incomes to meet the needs of their dependents
Help refugee girls stay in school and avoid early marriage
Not all girls have the chance to go to school. Equal access to education for girls is a human right, and it is also a means of achieving progress in other areas.
Refugee families living in Dzaleka are not allowed to move and work, resulting in poverty that often means girls are unable to go to school. Many girls are forced to drop out because of their inability to afford scholastic materials, the need to help earn an income and the complications that come with early marriage and early childbearing.
Many refugee families prioritize essential needs such as food and shelter, as well as sending boys to school, over girls’ education.
SOFERES as an active member of Girls Not Brides, a global partnership to end child marriage is working to make sure that all refugee girls in Dzaleka Camp and surrounding villages are healthy, safe and educated.
In 2018, 340 refugee girls at risk of early marriage have received scholastic materials including books, pens, bags, pencils and sanitary towels to motivate them stay in school. SOFERES also provided job skills training to 30 teen mothers who were not enrolled in school.
Learn without Fear
The Learn without Fear is a two year project that ran in two (2) primary schools within Dzaleka Camp including Integrity and Com Academy with the objective of building a safe environment conducive to better learning. Trainings helped 317 students learn about their right to education and how to identify and deal with instances of abuse. One of the results of this project was the development of suggestion boxes where students could post concerns, fears or opinions while preserving their privacy. In response, a limited number of authorities would check and refer the content to the respective committees for reflection and action.
The project also encompassed fun and dynamic activities that allowed schoolgirls to showcase their talents in the form of poetry, writing or dramas.
Motivational talks were also held for schoolgirls, where different role models with valuable real life experiences conveyed to learners the importance of education in a bright future.
In addition, schoolgirls participated in sessions where they created their own advocacy messages they want to send across to others about school and education.
Menstrual Health Management (MHM)
SOFERES has also implemented the Menstrual Health Management (MHM) project within Dzaleka Camp targeting two primary schools including Integrity and Com Academy. The project tackled different areas in order to create an environment where girls could better understand this process of change and not allow it to become a barrier. Two (2) Girl clubs were formed in collaboration with school staff and undergone training on MHM. 103 girls were also given packages of reusable sanitary wear to help alleviate physical discomforts. The project also focused on improving water and sanitation awareness raising and protection of dignity as its approach. By breaking cultural taboos that condemn this natural process and providing girls with the adequate materials and needs that can keep them clean and refreshed, schoolgirls should find school to be a friendly environment regardless of their menstrual cycle.
Training of school staff, schoolgirls, mother groups and hygiene clubs can increase comprehensive knowledge on the matter, changing rigid mindsets on the matter and advocating for better health management and care in schools. In complements with the production of sanitary pads in our economic empowerment projects, reusable pads are distributed to the girls to keep them comfortable. The project has received overwhelming support from the community, parents and schoolgirls.
The need to scale up sensitization campaigns on the importance of education to both refugee parents and children in school especially for girls so they do not drop out of school for lack of this is perquisite. Keeping refugee girls in school is key to protecting them from early marriage and reducing their vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Refugee Women and Girls in Leadership and Decision-Making
Women and girls in Dzaleka Refugee Camp don’t always have a say in decisions that affect their lives. They deserve to participate in their communities, advocate for their rights, and be role models for other girls.
In Dzaleka, the challenges that women and girls face are magnified by poverty. Rather than learning about their rights and how they can make a difference in the world, many refugee women’s and girls’ voices are silenced and they have no say in major decisions that impact their lives. In Dzaleka many girls, instead of going to school, making friends, and gaining life-skills, they spend their time cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger siblings. When women and girls are given the chance to have their voices heard, they can make a positive impact on the lives of their family, their community and the world.
SOFERES is working to expand proven, impactful program that include a focus on empowering refugee women and girls by promoting their self-confidence and providing them with leadership opportunities. It also working to promote female leaders by training them to become mentors.
In 2018 SOFERES organized two training sessions to teach refugee young women and girls about their rights and encourage them to speak out on issues impacting their lives. 45 young women and 35 girls have increased their knowledge on how to stand up for their rights and the rights of others within their own communities.
Keeping Refugee Girls free from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Women and girls living as refugees at Dzaleka camp in Malawi country, are suffering not only due to their refugee status, but also other factors over which they have no control: hostility and violence from local people (arising largely from competition over scarce resources and services), and pervasive sexual and gender-based violence. Refugee adolescent girls encounter violence and sexual assault in schools, communities and homes. Yet these problems are rarely acknowledged and the voices of refugee women and girls are rarely heard.
SOFERES as an active member of GBV Prevention Network and Girls Not Brides, is working to make sure that refugee women and girls are safe and free from violence. SOFERES is therefore involved to prevent and protect refugee women and girls from all forms of gender-based violence, abuse, exploitation and to ensure that women and girls who experience violence receive prompt psycho-social support. It’s also working to keep refugee girls free from sexual and gender-based violence by campaigning against child marriage.
In 2018, SOFERES organized two workshops and three community dialogue sessions from June to December, 2018 to raise awareness about early and forced marriages and their negative impacts on girls. The meetings were attended by refugee community and religious leaders, parents, girls as well as general members of the community. In an attempt to modify this malicious cultural practice emphasis was placed on the effects of early and forced marriages as well as what can be done to address these barriers in their communities.
Campaign to End Child Marriage in Dzaleka Camp
Child marriage is a cultural practice that continues to harm the lives and limit the futures of millions of girls around the world. Ending the tradition is more than a moral imperative; research shows that early marriage results in reduced schooling, limiting girls’ economic potential. It is also correlated with high rates of sexual violence and abuse, and with higher rates of maternal and infant mortality.
In Dzaleka camp, refugee adolescent girls face multiple barrier that prevent them from enjoying their rights and realizing their full potential, they are often forced into child marriage or prostitution to survive.
In June 2019, SOFERES conducted series of capacity building trainings for young refugee feminists, gender and child marriage advocates within Dzaleka refugee Camp. The trainings took place in The Community Centre from June 13 -15, 2019 where a total of 65 adolescent girls were trained and equipped with valuable skills and information on concepts of feminism, gender and child marriage. The aim was to build capacities and capabilities to engage in advocacy and influence positive social change.
The participants were drawn from various community members serving in Dzaleka Camp on different roles and influencing positions both in their families as well as in their communities.
The activity was designed to provide space for refugee young women between 12-24 years, to come together and share strategies, energize each other and celebrate their youth and the potential they have to advocate for social justice in their respective communities. The training and workshops provided open space and opportunities for refugee young women and girls in Dzaleka to review and critique their feminisms, share their struggles, exchange and assess their strategies, methodologies and tools; and craft feminisms that respond to ever-changing incarnations and manifestation of systems that unequally position them.
The participants were also equipped with advocacy skills and other practical skills they need for effective advocacy for refugee young women’s rights.
The training also covered sexual and reproductive health and rights, reflection of existing cultural practices and beliefs
The Refugee Girls Up Project
The Refugee Girls Up Project is based on the premise: Bright Future for Refugee Adolescent Girls. The JRS-funded project addresses the knowledge gap of adolescents in their sexual reproductive health and rights that lead them to physical and social vulnerability in Dzaleka Camp. Without adequate information, adolescents are engaged in unsafe practices that are harmful to their health and an impediment to their education.
Network groups for both girls and boys were formed and students participated in discussions and activities that gave them the confidence to talk about issues that affected them but were otherwise kept behind closed doors. The interaction dispelled cultural myths and helped them realize the importance of gender justice and the roles that can be taken on in order to attain equality. Youth drama groups were established as plays became a medium for sensitization and addressing taboos. The interactive performances were essentially an act of reaching out to community members, inclusive of those barred by illiteracy, and asking for their help in a positive change in attitudes and social norms.
Additionally, SOFERES hosted meetings to orient community members, duty bearers and raise the presence of health workers. Figureheads such as Camp headmen are also instrumental in mobilizing the community and raising awareness.